In part 2 I reported the view of the managing director of a specialist property consultancy that has represented petitioners against the HS2 Phase 1 hybrid Bill that the HS2 Select Committee has “opted to allow a large number of unresolved issues to continue to spin” in making its final report to Parliament. In footnote 1 to part 2 I cite ten specific instances where the prospect is suggested of taking outstanding issues to the House of Lords should they remain unresolved, but this is merely the tip of the iceberg. There are numerous examples in the final report where the Select Committee recognises that there are outstanding issues that need to be resolved: where these issues are the subject of ongoing negotiations it is assumed that a satisfactory settlement will be reached; where agreed studies have yet to be completed it is assumed that a satisfactory solution will be found; in some cases a desired outcome is expressed merely as an aspiration, or the Promoter is requested, or at best, “urged” to find a solution; only rarely have solutions been identified by the select Committee that it expects or, even more rarely, directs the Promoter to adopt (see footnote 1).
In a press release commenting upon the Committee’s report the HS2 Action Alliance interpret this rather timid approach as indicating that the Committee is “happy to accept every assurance at face value made by HS2 Ltd” and surely has some justification for making this charge (see footnote 2).
As I am writing this blog a response to the Select Committee’s report has been published by the Department for Transport. Whilst this addresses issues identified in the Committee’s report paragraph by paragraph, and should serve to reduce the speed at which at least some of the unresolved issues are “spinning”, it requires an expert knowledge of each and every issue to be able to determine whether each response is adequate. As things are, with the Select Committee appearing to have been stood down, it is not clear to me who will evaluate the adequacy of the Promoter’s response and pursue any remaining unresolved issues (see footnote 3).
Criticism of the Select Committee’s report, specifically in its handling of the technical evaluation of petitioners’ proposals, has come from another quarter; the authoritative voice of the railway enthusiast and Chairman of the Rail Freight Group, Lord Berkeley (see footnote 4). In a blog that the noble Lord has authored for the Upper House’s Lords of the Blog site, he expresses disappointment that “the Committee chose to rely on HS2 views without properly considering challenges to their assertions” and gives some examples that relate to his pet project, Euston Express. He concludes that “the Committee in many instances failed to give proper time to hearing evidence and challenging the promoter”.
Whilst I am sure that time constraints were indeed a factor in the Committee’s failing to give proper consideration to technical arguments that ran contrary to the Promoter’s world view, I think that by far the most contributory factor is one that Lord Berkeley is possibly too polite to cite: I, in contrast, have no such inhibition and unhesitatingly point the finger at the Committee’s general lack of competence in the wide array of technical matters upon which they were called upon to adjudicate. Whilst it is true that the Committee was able to count one Chartered Engineer amongst its Members, and another who appears to consider himself a polymath, this is no substitute for having independent specialist knowledge on call.
For me the results of this crucial shortcoming were all too painfully obvious when I read paragraphs 311 to 329 of the final report, which reveal the Committee’s response to the noise issues that were brought before them. After all of the detailed evidence that was placed before them by expert witnesses called by petitioners, and which I have analysed meticulously for you in blog after blog, I fail to see how any rational human being can conclude, as the Select Committee apparently does, that there is no fault with the treatment of noise in the Environmental Statement or in the noise policy set out in Information Paper E20. In addition to my general incredulity with this section of the Committee’s report, there are three specific assertions therein that really had my hackles rising.
The first of these is the claim in paragraph 319 that noise receptors that “fall outside” of the protections offered by the various LOAEL and SOAEL thresholds “but are predicted to experience more than certain levels of change in noise are assessed for further protection”. This is simply a mistaken interpretation of the policy set out in E20 (see footnote 5).
The second is the very misleading claim in paragraph 326 that “HS2 trains may be quieter [than HS1 trains]”. Whilst expected improvements in noise reduction technology are likely to make HS2 train pass-bys quieter than HS1 trains at the same speed, the distinct differences in HS1 and HS2 will dictate that the effects on residents living close to the latter are likely to be far greater than currently experienced in Kent: since these differences were clearly explained more than once in the evidence presented to the Committee, there is really no excuse for including this potential misrepresentation (see footnote 6). According to Committee Member Mike Hendrick MP it is “obvious that a high speed train, like HS2 is going to be noisier than HS1” (see footnote 7), so why did he not object to the paragraph 326 claim during the Committee’s review of the report?
Finally, if you have read observations that I have found occasion to make about the evidence given by the Promoter’s acoustics expert, Rupert Thorneley-Taylor, you will perhaps understand that I am incensed that he has been singled out for praise in paragraph 329 of the final report. The Committee expresses the hope that the observations made “will not seem partial”; I’m afraid that they not only “seem” partial, but they are, and furthermore they add weight to Lord Berkeley’s claim, noted above, that “the Committee chose to rely on HS2 views”; there should be no place for such expressions of favour in a purportedly nonpartisan analysis.
(To be continued …)
- My trawl through the final report has identified examples in paragraphs 50, 52, 53, 66, 85, 87, 89, 94, 104, 110, 111, 145, 147-149, 151, 153, 154, 162, 164, 180, 181, 185-193, 195, 199, 200, 209, 211, 212, 214, 229, 232-236, 239-241, 245, 246 and 254.
See Thin gruel from HS2 Select Committee, released by HS2 Action Alliance on 23rdFebruary 2016.
- However, the verdict from Stop HS2 on the Promoter’s response is fairly downbeat; see the blog Government brushes aside HS2 Committee Report.
- My good friend Mr Google informs me that someone has coined the term “ferroequinologist” for such a person – a dubious combination derived from the Latin words for iron and horse, LOL.
- Paragraphs 3.1 and 3.2 of Information Paper E20 refer only to noise levels that exceed LOAEL, and give no undertakings whatsoever that the level of change will be taken into account. The emphasis on the word “change” in the quote from paragraph 319 of the final report is in the original.
- I will consider these differences as they were presented in evidence in the upcoming parts 22 and 23 of Gladiatorial games.
- Mr Hendrick’s comment is recorded in paragraph 262 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.
Important Note: The record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee from which the quote reproduced in this blog has been taken is an uncorrected transcript of evidence, which is not yet an approved formal record. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record in such instances, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.